'Follow Me' opens curiously with a bespectacled woman putting a jigsaw puzzle together whilst jazz standards play in the background.
She is Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Britain to be sentenced to death, and she
is about to be hanged.
Her case was one of a number of actually or possibly
unsound judgements which lead to the abolition of capital punishment in the
United Kingdom. Ellis was also among the last to be executed by Albert
Pierrepoint, whose own curious career as the most well-known executioner in Britain
was the subject of a recent film.
The Wildman Room provides a suitably claustrophobic space
for an exploration of these two individuals, and the circumstances which have
brought them to such proximity. Although both characters exist within the confines
of the prison in which Ellis is to meet her fate, they do not encounter until
the final moments of the play, spending the best part of an hour in
anticipation of this, inventing each other like putative lovers imagining their
Sex and death are very much on the minds of Albert
Pierrepoint (Ross Gurney-Randall) and Ruth Ellis (Beth Fitzgerald), although
much of what they may have wished from life remains hidden, most especially
Ellis was charged with and convicted of the murder of her
lover, David Blakely, and the case became notorious, partly
through the public outcry which ensued and a sense of injustice which has
endured even though a judicial review of the case upheld the original verdict
as recently as 2003.
Fitzgerald's Ellis is perhaps a shade too composed and sure
of herself for much of the play, although this may be in part at least to make
her late breakdown, when it is announced that there will be no reprieve as
anticipated, the more credible. Ross Gurney-Randall's Pierrepoint is solidly
conceived and delivered, although his character's journey is perhaps less
extensive and demanding than Fitzgerald's.
Unavoidably, perhaps, 'Follow Me' is not simply a meditation
on a single controversial judgement, but a consideration of the whole question
of both the morality of capital punishment and the methods used to impose it in
one country at one particular time. It may not be to the taste of a) those of
a squeamish disposition (there is much on the mechanics of execution), b) those uninterested in recent
history (there's a lot of reality to digest in 75 minutes), c) those who imagine
there's nothing wrong with capital punishment in the United States that a few more
gallows and hanging judges couldn't cure.
Although (and perhaps because) we spend so long imaging
Ellis' and Pierrepoint's brief encounter its actual moment falls rather flat.
It's difficult to imagine an alternative, and what is, is perfectly well
managed, but nonetheless feels like a script resolutely painting toward the
last remaining corner.
Nonetheless, this is a show which does not disappoint in any other respect, and deserves
the attention of the thoughtful audiences it's sure to get.
Dates: August 2-27 (not Monday 13th)